New York, NY—According to a study done by the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, children exposed to phthalates while still in the womb are more likely to develop behavioral problems. The New York City-based study tested the urine of mothers during pregnancy, and then analyzed the behavior of their children (188 in total) when they were four through nine years old. The researchers for this study included scientists from Mount Sinai, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Cornell University.

Overall, the more a child was exposed to phthalates, the more likely they were to have issues associated with conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The phthalates found to affect the behavior are those present in personal care products such as perfumes, soaps, lotions and shampoos, while those used in toys and plastics seemed to have no effect. Phthalates are often used in cosmetics and personal care items for fragrancing.

It is unclear why phthalates seem to increase the chance of behavior disorders, but one theory is that the chemicals disrupt thyroid hormones. These hormones are crucial for brain develoopment. A child’s brain is most susceptible while it is developing in the womb, raising concerns about the mother’s exposure to these chemicals while pregnant. Women are the most highly exposed group to phthalates, though most humans have traces of the chemicals in their bodies.
Previous studies also indicate phthalates neurodevelopment, especially in boys. Most of the effects found were related to a phthalate metabolite called MMP. This fact has surprised some scientists, because MMP had generally been regarded as harmless.

 While phthalates are banned in European-sold cosmetics, the United States currently has no restrictions on them. Groups are seeking action by the manufacturers of personal care items to remove these chemicals from their products. Those scientists involved with this study hope to lessen children’s exposure both in the womb and after birth.


Published in WholeFoods Magazine, April 2010